Compassion, Not Sacrifice: Same Mission, Different Strategy

By Dr. Brandon Kertson

I have been reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice.’” Sacrifice spoke of the dominant system of worship of the day. People followed the system thinking it is what pleased God. An orchestration of religious acts that served to help people feel secure in their standing before God.

Jesus rarely just speaks words, rather he also lives them out. In the next series of stories after Matthew 9:13, there are numerous miracle stories where the marginalized are included, the strangers are welcomed, and the poor are empowered. First, Jesus heals a woman with a hemorrhage (Matt 9:20-22). This hemorrhage made this woman economically poor because it ran up her doctor’s bills. It made her poor in spirit because she would have been perpetually unclean and unable to enter the temple to participate in sacrifice (Lev. 15:19-30; 21:20). Finally, it would have made her socially marginalized because touching other people or being intimate with a lover would have made them unclean as well. Jesus has compassion on her, heals her and she is restored. Next, Jesus heals two blind men and next a mute demon-possessed man who have similar holistic needs that are met by Jesus’ compassionate healing touch. Jesus goes outside of the constraints, outside of the normal way of doing things and meets these individuals where they live, because they would never have been allowed in the halls of worship.

A summary text in verse 36 brings the word compassion back into purview telling us that when he saw these marginalized, he felt compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. It was this feeling of compassion for the holistic distress of the forgotten that led Jesus to say to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.” This context gives whole new meaning to what these workers are supposed to be doing in this oft quoted mission passage!

Why am I writing this blog at this moment at this time?

I am sure you have been as inundated with covid-19 news as I have. News and the expectations of daily life have been changing on an hourly basis. In the midst of the chaos our rallying cry should be: our strategy changes, but our mission does not. The original goal of the sacrificial system was to connect people with God, but when it had served its usefulness, people were slow to move to new strategies to fulfill God’s mission of reconciliation.

Perhaps we have been too in love with our systems of worship rather than trying to extend compassion to people in need through other strategies. Many churches have been employing new strategies to move church online during this pandemic, but my fear is that we are simply moving the same system of worship to a new environment and not asking, “How do we meet the needs of people that are hurting, excluded and alone?” Rather we are simply asking, “How do we keep people coming?”  During this time of crisis, we need to find new ways to minister and my prayer is that it will help us to learn what God means when he says, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” May we be challenged during this season to not get caught up on a specific methodology as being pleasing to God, but a true heart of worship – compassionate obedience that leads to transformed lives and transformed communities.